Monday, December 27, 2010

Year in review top lists and what do I have to add?

Everyone's done their top ten faves of the year - books, films, music etc
but instead of compiling a list I'd rather go to the circus.
If I were in Paris I'd take my friend's five year old daughter Zouzou, to
the Cirque d'hiver, the winter circus. Since 1852 the Cirque d'hiver at the juncture of the rue des Filles Calvaires and rue Amelot has been a prominent venue for circuses, horse shows, musical concerts and today fashion shows and Turkish wrestling. The circus is still run by the Bouglione family who took over in 1934. Last week the matriarch Rosa celebrated her 100th birthday in the ring with her three children and 54 grand and great grand children. Even the minister of culture attended. After Leighton posted about the Brazilian architect still humming at 103 I thought about Rosa. Honestly if you weren't an architect how much better could life be than to reach 100 still run a circus under the big top and employ generations of your family?
But the Cirque d'Hiver isn't an ordinary big top, the place is decked in red velvet with chandeliers and top acrobats who vie to perform on their circuit.
Off boulevard du Temple, once known as the 'boulevard du crime' for the countless theatres - now only a few remain - famous for the nightly performances of plays involving murder topped the bill in the belle epoque, the circus retains that bygone era.
The flying trapeze, clowns, jugglers, animals, incredible acrobatic acts, fun and laughter are what Parisians think of, when they think of a circus and the Cirque d'Hiver Bouglione is no exception. Acrobats and performers from all over the world perform in this traditional French circus.
The building itself is a must see - a unique piece of architecture - built in an oval polygon of 20 sides, with Corinthian columns at the angles, giving the impression of an oval building enclosing the oval ring, surrounded by steeply banked seating for spectators, very much like a miniature indoor Colosseum. A low angled roof is self-supporting like a low dome, so that there is no central pole, as under a tent, to obstruct views or interfere with the action. The building was designed by the architect Hittorff and opened as the Cirque Napoléon, a compliment to the new Emperor, the French Napoleon III. The sculptor Pradier was called upon to provide exterior bas-reliefs of Amazons, and Duret and Bosio sculpted the panels of mounted warriors.
The original guiding entrepreneur was Louis Dejean, the proprietor of the Cirque d'été the Summer Circus erected annually that flanked the Champs-Élysées. Dejean wagered that evening circus performances under the limelight, with the spectators well removed from the dust and smells of the tanbark floor, would provide a dress occasion for le tout-Paris and he was right.
After the Second Empire, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec repeatedly found inspiration for his work in rehearsals and performances at the Cirque d'hiver, Georges Seurat painted an afternoon performance, with a distinctly middle-class audience, now his unfinished canvas is at the Musée d'Orsay. Since 1934 it has been the Cirque d'hiver-Bouglione, operated by Rosa and the Bouglione family in the winter. The original configuration accommodated 4,000, which has now been reduced to 2,090 due to fire codes.
At the Cirque d'hiver in 1955, Richard Avedon took his famous photograph of the fashion model "Dovima with the Elephants" to show a floor-length evening dress by Dior, one of the most iconic fashion photographs of the century..
The movie The Trapeze with Burt Lancaster, who started his career in the circus, was filmed in the Cirque d'Hiver.
So if you want to see men in tights and Gina Lolabrigida against the backdrop of the Cirque you can't go wrong.

Meanwhile if you're in snowy Paris the best way to get to Cirque d'Hiver might be like this;

Cara - Tuesday


  1. The craftsmanship that went into the building and design of the winter circus is far beyond that of any building, no matter how important its purpose, that is built today.

    Leighton's post yesterday showed the imagination of the architect who preferred curves over straight lines. The basilica he designed is stunning but will it last as long as the Cirque d'Hiver? Will anything built in the twentieth century survive intact to the end of the twenty-first?

    The basilica doesn't look like a church but the Cirque d'Hiver looks like a circus tent. Children must find that enthralling.


  2. that's so right, Beth, and no poles to block the views! Cara

  3. Cara, it's good to see a piece of old (and slightly dingy Paris survive encroachment by Gap and Starbuck's. When I last saw Paris the Cirq d'Hiver looked sad and closed. Dreading what the massive redevelopment of the 13ième is going to do to my beloved Butte aux Cailles.